Justin Fox Burks
When Ray Nolan was growing up, his dad picked up dinner at a barbecue joint every Friday night, and 6-year-old Nolan tagged along. In the third grade, he fell in love with his future wife, Shirley, while they sat side-by-side on the wall of a neighbor’s barbecue pit. As a young working teen, Nolan was so enamored with smoke, fire, and meat that he said to his boss, “Don’t pay me in cash. Just pay me in barbecue.”
“My blood bleeds barbecue,” says Nolan, whose well-earned bragging rights include a landscape of barbecue businesses in Tennessee and Mississippi and a Memphis win on the Travel Channel’s Underground BBQ Challenge with G. Garvin.
For now, Nolan’s barbecue food truck — a converted medical bus — is saved for special events, because he is busy with a new permanent location near the Chisca Hotel on South Main. Called Ray’z World Famous Dr. Bar-B-Que, Ray’z with a Z means a new beginning, like the rays of the sun. And what about the doctor? “When you hear the word doctor, you know you are getting something good.”
Amen to that. Nolan’s barbecue Italian beef brisket hoagie is a marvelous invention, layering sliced brisket in au jus with slaw and giardiniera, a relish of onions, carrots, celery, and a surprise green olive or two. And his St. Louis-style ribs, cooked out back in an enormous 5,000-gallon smoker with four different woods, fall off the bone in flavorful and succulent chunks.
Served alongside much of the menu, which includes chicken, catfish, sausage, rib tips, and chopped or pulled pork, Ray’z ketchup-base barbecue sauce is the restaurant’s crown jewel and a remedy to whatever ails you. “Everything in my sauce is natural and healthy,” Nolan says, ticking off super food ingredients like garlic and blueberries. “So if something bad is trying to come into your body, my sauce is going to say, ‘Stop, in the name of barbecue.’”
302 S. Main Street (901-527-9026). Closed Monday. $